Last year at about this time, the U.S. surgeon general wrote a prescription for all Americans, especially those who are sedentary. The prescription? Take a walk.
Almost two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese, and about 50 percent have chronic diseases, many of which are related to excess weight, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Studies show that even modest amounts of walking can provide significant health benefits. Of course, the more the better. Walking is the most popular form of exercise in the U.S. It is a gentle, low-impact and easy way to exercise. Walking is safe for most and doesn’t require practice.
A regular walking program has been shown to lower LDL (bad) and raise HDL (good) cholesterol; lower blood pressure; reduce the risk of developing, as well as to help manage, type 2 diabetes; manage weight and enhance weight loss; improve mood and relieve stress; decrease anxiety and depression; and allow older adults to stay strong and fit, and thus reduce the risk of falls.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that healthy adults aim for a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, such as walking. If you want to ensure you are walking briskly enough to benefit your heart and lungs, aim for 125 steps per minute for 30 minutes or about 3 to 4.5 miles per hour.
Studies show that close to 80 percent of adults do not reach the CDC goal. Ideally, all adults should aim for 300 minutes a week of physical activity. However, any amount of walking is beneficial. If time is an issue, it is fine to break walking down into 10-15 minute increments, such as walking during a work break. If you miss your exercise time, try to fit more activity into your day. Park farther away from the store or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
If you have not walked in some time, start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time and distance you are walking. The American Heart Association has a helpful walking program for beginners, as well as walking tips for all walkers on its website (heart.org).
It is important to wear well-fitting walking or running shoes. These should be replaced after about every 500 miles of use. Dress in loose-fitting, comfortable clothing, and in layers if you need to adjust to changing temperatures. If walking in the dark, wear light colors or reflective vests and consider wearing a head lamp to increase visibility, light your pathway and reduce falls.
Try to walk on a comfortable, well-maintained level surface. School tracks or the indoor walking track at Sports Pavilion Lawrence are especially good for those who may have joint issues or when the weather is inclement.
Many people start an exercise or walking program with good intentions to remain faithful but sometimes get off track. To help stick with it, keep on a schedule and make exercise a part of your daily routine. Keep it interesting and fun — listen to music; walk different routes or in different locations; or consider walking with a supportive friend or a group.
Autumn is an ideal time to start or renew a regular walking routine; the temperatures are more moderate and the fall colors beautiful. Vacations are usually over and the holidays not yet here.
October is National Walking Month. In recognition, Lawrence Memorial Hospital is offering WALK-tober 2016; a free fitness activity challenge. Participants walk or participate in other fitness activities as often as they can during October. They may walk or exercise with a group of their choosing or on their own.
Participants keep track of their weekly minutes of physical activity, with the WALK-tober goal being 600 minutes (or more) of activity during October. This amount should be in addition to normal daily activities. There will also be regular emails to participants with fitness, health, and nutrition tips, plus healthy recipes. Optional group walks will be offered on at least four occasions throughout the month, too.
To register for WALK-tober, go to lmh.org/events and search for Walktober or send an e-mail to email@example.com or call 785- 505-3066.
For more information about the Surgeon General’s 2015 Call to Action and the Step It Up Program to promote walking and walkable communities, go to surgeongeneral.gov.
— Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, MA, RN, is community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.